When the moment of truth arrived, the NHL and NHL Players' Association were nowhere near the bargaining table.

The sides remained so far apart in negotiations that no last-ditch attempt was even made before the league entered its fourth work stoppage in 20 years. Instead, the collective bargaining agreement quietly expired at midnight on Saturday and the NHL locked out its players.

"We spoke again today, and in light of the fact that neither party has indicated an intention to move off of its last proposal, we have decided that there is no point in convening a formal bargaining session," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press in an email. "We will keep in close contact in the coming days and if anything changes, I am sure we will be in touch."

The lockout was a long time coming.

As far back as November, the NHL informed the union it would be unwilling to continue operating past the expiration of the current CBA. But there were no formal talks held in the final three days under the expiring agreement.

Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel, claimed the union requested a meeting before the "owners' self-imposed deadline" on Saturday but was rebuffed.

"(Executive director) Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in (New York) and prepared to meet," he said in a statement. "The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting. There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."

The parties last sat down together on Wednesday afternoon, with each tabling a proposal, and commissioner Gary Bettman indicated he expects the next move to come from the union.

One immediate sign of the split: The NHL's website went from featuring current players to remembering great moments in the sport, such as the 1987 Canada Cup.

The impact of the work stoppage will be felt immediately. The first pre-season games are expected to be cancelled next week and the possibility of having the regular season start as scheduled on Oct. 11 will become less and less likely with each passing day.

During the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, both the league and individual teams decided to lay off employees. On Saturday afternoon, Daly said the NHL has no plans to cut staff "at this point in time."

A number of players are expected to seek alternative opportunities in Europe, with the Russian-based KHL offering the most financial appeal. Switzerland, Sweden and Finland will also likely be popular destinations.

Players aren't scheduled to receive the first of 13 NHL paycheques this season until Oct. 15 — something they'll miss if the lockout extends past that date. There are no immediate plans for them to receive a stipend from the union.

Even the main negotiators will stop being paid. Bettman and Daly both committed to giving up their salary during the lockout, while Donald Fehr stopped collecting a paycheque at the start of July as a sign of solidarity with his membership.

With the sides struggling to agree on how to divide up US$3.28 billion in annual revenues, both lamented the damage that is bound to be inflicted by engaging in another work stoppage.

"Hockey is poised, I think, to really move over the next three or four years to a fundamentally different place than it's been before," said Fehr. "The question is whether the dispute we're currently having is going to screw that up. If so, that's bad and that's unfortunate — we ought to be doing what we can to avoid it."

Added Bettman: "Even a brief lockout will cost more in lost revenue and wages than making a deal we think we need to make."

For the last several weeks, all of the secondary issues have been pushed aside so that talks could focus solely on the league's core economic system.

The NHL believes too much money is being paid out in salaries and has proposed a system to address it. They're calling for the players' share in revenue to be set at 49 per cent next season — down from 57 per cent in the expiring deal — and proposed that it drops to 47 per cent by the end of the six-year deal.

The union tabled an offer where the salary cap would be set to fixed increases of two per cent, four per cent and six per cent over the next three years. The system would then revert to a percentage-based system for the final two years.

Both sides in the dispute have questioned whether the other actually wanted to avoid a lockout.

"We all kind of feel that's what they are looking for," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of the league after a meeting of more than 275 players in New York this week. "If you look at the key principles of everything, we're showing we're willing to move, to sacrifice things.

"If you look at (the NHL) proposal, it's not really the same type of feeling."

The last round of negotiations saw the sides cancel an entire season before the NHLPA eventually relented and accepted a salary cap. However, it didn't end up working out so badly for players as the average salary rose to $2.45 million over the course of the CBA.

"It actually turned out to be more fair than perhaps it should have been," said Bettman.

And so the NHL begins writing another chapter in its history of labour strife.

An 11-day strike in April 1992 caused 30 games to be postponed, while a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 forced the cancellation of 468 games and delayed the season's start until Jan. 20. The 2004 lockout began Sept. 16 and wasn't settled until July 13 — making the NHL the first North American sports league to ever cancel an entire season over a labour dispute.

The three lockouts have all come with Bettman at the helm. During a board of governors meeting on Thursday, owners voted unanimously in support of the work stoppage.

"This is very hard and I feel terrible about it," Bettman said afterwards.

But the players felt owners should have been willing to do more, especially after all the trouble they went through during the last round of negotiations.

"I think we want more of a partnership and it seems like they just want to take money back," said Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza. "We did that last time. We gave them a percentage of our salaries and it solved absolutely nothing."

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  • 5 Questions On The NHL Labour Dispute Answered

    We here at CBCSports.ca want to guide you through the NHL's collective bargaining process and we want you to get involved. The following is a list of questions and answers to start things off. What do you want answered? Use the comment section below and we'll do our best to get you an accurate response. <em>This Jan.24, 2012 file photo shows Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller, right, making a save on a shootout shot by New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise (9) during overtime of an NHL hockey game in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)</em>

  • What does it mean to be locked out?

    By definition, it means the players are being prevented from going to work, and that translates into no contact with their team. So no team-sanctioned practices, no contact with coaches to talk about team philosophy or line combinations. Probably more important is no contact with trainers about rehabilitating an injury or maintaining off-season workouts. Oh yes, one other thing. No player paycheques. <em>This Feb. 16, 2005 file photo shows a security guard passing stored Boston Bruins goal nets at the FleetCenter in Boston. With a lockout drawing ever closer, the NHL and the players' union are in touch with each other after a day of internal meetings. But no new negotiating sessions are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, one day before Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he will lock out the players. This would be the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)</em>

  • What do players do in the event of a lockout?

    While the answer varies case-by-case. Some players have already maintained they'll pack up and head overseas. For example, Penguins snipers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have both expressed interest in playing in Europe, whether with the KHL or another professional league. It won’t be easy because of contract restrictions and/or limits on foreign players. These players will be able to collect paycheques but they will risk injury. Then again, there are some who may choose to spend more time with friends and family. They could take extended vacations, travel the globe, or better yet get comfortable on their couch and enjoy playing the simulated version of themselves in the newly released EA Sports franchise NHL 13. What would you do? <em>Jeff Skinner leaves the locker room after a Carolina Hurricanes informal workout at Raleigh Center Ice on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, in Raleigh, N.C. Skinner was taking his gear, which is normally stored in the lockers, with him as the players will not be allowed to use the Hurricanes facility in the event of an NHL lockout. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Ethan Hyman)</em>

  • Who are Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman?

    Donald Fehr: The 62-year-old Kansas native has a deep history in labour relations, beginning as an assistant to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association in the late 1970’s. He was hired as the MLBPA’s general counsel in 1977, spending the next 33 years with the organization. The guy in charge was Marvin Miller, the most influential sports negotiator of all time. During this time Fehr also held the top job as union chief, guiding players through the 1994-95 strike. Despite presiding over the MLBPA during the only year in baseball history where the World Series was not handed out (1994), Fehr’s success can be measured in real dollars. The average player’s salary increased from $289,000 US in 1983 to more than $3.3 million in 2009. After leaving the MLBPA, Fehr joined the NHLPA in an advisor role in 2010, shortly before he was voted into the job of executive director of the organization.To get to know Gary Bettman better, click here for an indepth look at the elusive NHL commissioner as Q host Jian Ghomeshi asks author Jonathon Gatehouse about the man who has ran the NHL's business side for nearly two decades. <em>NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 in New York. The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players expires Saturday at midnight. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)</em>

  • What happens to hockey related jobs?

    We've narrowed our definition of hockey related jobs to include anyone employed by the teams. A lockout could have an adverse effect on their staff, as is the case with the Vancouver Canucks organization. Earlier this week the team announced they'll be decreasing staffing to a four-day work week for employees in the event of a lockout, which is equal to a 20 per cent reduction. The scenario will differ for all of the clubs. "The front office people are ones that I worry about and many were casualties in the last lockout. I admire the organizations that were loyal to their employees and paid them in full through the lockout." — Hockey Night in Canada Radio's Gord Stellick during a CBCSports.ca live chat last month. <em>In this Sept. 16, 2004 file photo shows a hockey net lies atop seats under the stands at the Bell Centre, home to the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, on the first day of the NHL players' lockout in Montreal. With a lockout drawing ever closer, the NHL and the players' union are in touch with each other after a day of internal meetings. But no new negotiating sessions are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, one day before Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he will lock out the players. This would be the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ian Barrett)</em>

  • What happens next?

    t’s hard to stay optimistic when the two sides trying to figure out how to divide the pie can’t agree on whether it’s made of blueberries, apples or pumpkins, or even when they’ll meet to talk about the best ingredients. Gary Bettman says since the league made the last offer, they are waiting to hear from the players. Donald Fehr has called this statement a negotiating tactic. No matter who needs to reach out to who, no talks have been scheduled. Many, like HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman, believe it will take more than a somewhat meaningless Sept. 15 deadline to get talks heated up, pointing to the beginning of the season in October, and even the Winter Classic in January as the real pressure points on the two sides. <em>NHL hockey players watch as NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr speaks at a news conference in New York, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. With a lockout looking increasingly certain, the NHL players' union meets Thursday followed by an owners' meeting at league headquarters with Commissioner Gary Bettman. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)</em>


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  • How Much Are Canada's NHL Teams Worth?

    Let's face it, hockey is Canada's game. So it's not a surprise that Canada's NHL teams are among the most valuable in the game. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/nhl-valuations/#p_3_s_a0_" target="_hplink">Here's how much they're worth according to Forbes magazine.</a> (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

  • Toronto Maple Leafs

    The long-suffering Leafs are in Canada's biggest TV and fan market. The Leafs are the league's most valuable team worth $521-million. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

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    The NHL's most successful team, the Montreal Canadiens are worth $445-million. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

  • The Vancouver Canucks

    Last year's Stanley Cup runner-up, the Vancouver Canucks are worth $300-million. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

  • The Calgary Flames

    The Calgary Flames might be struggling this year but they're still worth $220-million. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

  • The Edmonton Oilers

    The Gretzky-fueled glory days are over but the Oilers have a crop of young talent that they hope can be a foundation. The other team from Alberta is worth $212-million. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  • The Ottawa Senators

    The host of this year's All-Star Game, the Ottawa Senators are the other team in hockey-mad Ontario. They're worth $201-million. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

  • The Winnipeg Jets

    The Winnipeg Jets return to Canada was an emotional one. Canada's 7th NHL team is worth $164-million. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)